Della Collins Cook

Della Collins Cook

Professor, Anthropology

Adjunct Professor, Anthropology School of Liberal Arts, IUPUI

Affiliate Faculty, William R. Adams Zooarchaeology Lab

Director, Osteology and Paleopathology Lab


  • Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1976
  • M.A., University of Chicago, 1971
  • A.B., Cornell University, 1969

About Della Collins Cook

My work in skeletal biology applies insights drawn from health studies of modern humans to the study of ancient peoples. I am particularly interested in the infectious diseases that affect the skeleton and in developmental defects in the teeth. I began working in 1970 on the relationship between subsistence and health by comparing limb bone lengths, and by inference, stature, in children from two prehistoric Midwestern cemetery sites that pre-dated and post-dated the beginning of heavy dependence on maize. Was the hunting and gathering way of life the original good life, as it is often portrayed? My research suggests that a marked deterioration in health attends the adoption of agriculture, but that at least some agricultural groups suffered few health consequences after the use of maize was established. Paleopathology of Woodland and Mississippian Indians in the Midwest continues to be the focus of my research. My most recent work with several colleagues applies ancient DNA technology to understanding the epidemiology of tuberculosis among Mississippian maize farmers.

Early in my career I characterized the diseases that leave evidence on bone according to their epidemiological characteristics, and applied the models that resulted to the evidence for disease in prehistoric populations. A number of interesting observations followed. My work suggested that non-venereal syphilis was endemic in the ancient Midwest. More recently I have explored evidence for congenital transmission of treponemal disease in later prehistory in the Americas as well as in slave populations from Barbados. Mary Lucas Powell and I have published an edited volume. My work on the vertebrae of Australopithecus afarensis showed that vertebral lesions most resemble Scheuermann's disease, a condition that follows strenuous athletic activity in adolescents. Its presence in australopithecines suggests that strenuous climbing or lifting was part of their behavioral repertoire. Research in collaboration with J.E. Buikstra in the 1980s suggested that tuberculosis, or a tuberculosis-like disease, appeared on the New World only after there were population aggregates of tens of thousands of people. Mark Braun, Susan Pfeiffer and I were able to confirm this diagnosis using ancient DNA in 1998. Prof. Rika Kaestle and I continue to pursue this fascinating topic.

I participated in Prof. Anne Pyburn's excavation at Chau Hiix, Belize from 1993 to 2006. We have a field school there every other spring semester, allowing my students to gain experience in excavating burials. We have begun to publish the archaeology and physical anthropology of this unusual ancient Maya population. I am interested in mortuary practices, and have written on funerary masks and house floor burials, artifacts made from human bones, and osteobiography of unusual persons in the ancient Midwest. I am presently collaborating with colleagues at Museu Nacional and FIOCRUZ on a study of a slave cemetery in Rio de Janeiro.

Selected Publications

1974  Environmental carbon monoxide and multiple sclerosis.  Amer. J. Clin. Nutrition 27:105.

1978  Pre‑Columbian tuberculosis:  an epidemiological approach.  Medical College of Virginia Quarterly 14:32‑ 44.  With Jane Buikstra.

1978  CA comment.  Current Anthropology 19:73.

1978  CA comment.  Current Anthropology 19:685‑6.

1979  Subsistence base and health in prehistoric Illinois River Valley:  evidence from the human skeleton.  Medical Anthropology 3:109‑124.

1979  Health and differential survival in prehistoric populations:  prenatal dental defects.  AJPA 51:649‑ 664.  With J.E. Buikstra.

1980  Paget's disease and treponematosis in prehistoric Midwestern Indians:  the case for misdiagnosis.  Ossa 7:41‑63.

1980  Hereditary enamel hypoplasia in a prehistoric Indian child.  J. of Dental Research 59/9:1522.

1980  Palaeopathology:  an American account.  Annual Reviews in Anthropology  9:433‑70.  With J.E. Buikstra.

1980  Schild pathologies.  In L.G. Goldstein, Mississippian mortuary practices:  a case study of two cemeteries in the Lower Illinois Valley.  Northwestern University Archeological Program Scientific Papers No. 3.

1981  Mortality, age structure, and status in the interpretation of stress indicators in prehistoric skeletons:  a dental example from the Lower Illinois Valley.  In R. Chapman and K. Randsborg, eds., The Archaeology of Death.  Cambridge University Press. 

1981  Clay funerary masks in Illinois Hopewell.   With K. Farnsworth.  Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 6:3‑ 15.

1981  Pre‑Columbian tuberculosis:  prehistoric disease in biocultural perspective.  With J.E. Buikstra.  In Pre‑ Columbian Tuberculosis in the Americas.  J.E. Buikstra, ed., Northwestern Archaeological Program Scientific Papers.

1981  Koniag Eskimo tooth ablation:  was Hrdlicka right after all?  Current Anthropology  22:159‑163.      

1983  Vertebral osteoarthritis and osteophytosis in the Afar australopithecines.  With J.E. Buikstra, C.J. DeRousseau, and D.C. Johanson.  AJPA 60:83‑101.

1983  Ethnobiology.  In: Encyclopedia of Indians of the Americas. Scholarly Press, St. Clair, Michigan. Vol. 5: 256-8.

1984  Subsistence and health in the Lower Illinois Valley:  osteological evidence.  In Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture.  M.N. Cohen and G.J. Armelagos, eds., Academic Press, San Francisco.

1984  Adult age determination from the dentition.  In T. Rathbun and J. Buikstra, eds., Case Studies in Forensic Anthropology.  C.C. Thomas, Springfield. 

1987  Diet, demography and the development of horticulture.  In:  Emergent horticultural economies of the Eastern Woodlands.  Edited by W.F. Keegan.  Occasional Paper #7, Center for Archaeological Investigation, SIU Press, Carbondale.  With J. Buikstra, J. Bullington, D.C. Charles, S.K. Frankenberg, L.W. Konigsberg, J.B.  Lambert and L. Xue.

1988  Forensic Anthropology.  Medical Education Resources Program, I.U. School of Medicine, MERP Network videotape aired 28 April 1988.

1990   Epidemiology of circular caries:  a perspective from prehistoric skeletons.  In:  A Life in Science:  Papers in Honor of J. Lawrence Angel.  J.E. Buikstra, ed. Center for American Archaeology and  Bioanthropology Unit, American Anthropological Association, Kampsville.

1991   Trauma in Late Woodland crania from Illinois.  With J. Heilman and M. Martin            Neely. Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Sciences 100:1-8.

1991   Specimens for teaching forensic pathology, odontology, and anthropology Part I: soft tissue.  With D.A. Hawley, D.C. Marlin, D. Becsey, M.A. Clark, J.E. Pless and S. M. Standish.  American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 12:164-169.

1991   Specimens for teaching forensic pathology, odontology,   and anthropology.  Part  II:  Teeth and bone.  With D.A. Hawley, D.C. Marlin, D. Becsey, M.A. Clark, J.E. Pless and S. M. Standish. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 12:170-174.

1991   An osteological analysis of social organization at the Carter Ranch Pueblo, Arizona.  With M.E. Danforth.  Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 100:101-111.

1992   Congenital syphilis in the past:  slaves at Newton Plantation, Barbados, West Indies.  With K.P. Jacobi, R.S. Corruccini and J.S. Handler. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 89:145-158.

1992    Paleopatologia.  With J.E. Buikstra. In: Paleopatologia e Paleoepidemiologia: Estudos Multidisciplinares. A.J. G. Araujo, Ed. Fundacao Oswaldo Cruz: Rio de  Janeiro.

1993   African burial ground addenda. (letter). Archaeology 46(4):10.

1993   What diseases plagued ancient Egyptians? A century of controversy considered. With J.E. Buikstra and B. Baker.  In: W.V. Davies and R. Walker, eds. Biological  anthropology and the study of ancient Egypt.  British Museum Press: London.

1994    The human remains from Carter Ranch Pueblo, Arizona: health in isolation.  With  M.E. Danforth and S.G. Knick.   American Antiquity 59(1):88-101.

1994    Dental evidence for congenital syphilis (and its absence) before and after the Conquest of the New World.  In: O. Dutour, G. Palfi, J. Berato and J-P. Brun,  eds., L'Origine de la Syphilis en Europe: avant ou apres 1492?  Errance: Paris.

1995   Human remains: some recommendations for recovery and processing.  In: The Practical Impact of Science on Field Archaeology: Maintaining Long-term Analytical Options.  The Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute:Nicosia.

1997   Skeletal evidence for child abuse: a physical anthropological perspective.  With P.A. Walker and P. Lambert.  Journal of Forensic Sciences 42:196-207.

1997   Late Postclassic tooth filing at Chau Hiix and Tipu, Belize.  With L. M. Havill, D.M. Warren, K.D. Jacobi, and K.A. Pyburn.  In:  Bones of the Maya: Studies of  Ancient Skeletons, S. L. Whittington and D. M. Reed, eds.  Smithsonian Inst. Press. Pp. 89-104.

1997   Book Review.  [Mortuary Practices and Skeletal Remains at Teotihuacan.]   International  Journal of Osteoarchaeology  7:563-5.

1998   DNA from Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex identified in North American, Pre-Columbian human skeletal remains.  With M. Braun and S. Pfeiffer.  Journal of Archaeological Sciences 25:271-277.

1998   Brief communication: gender and sex: vive la difference.  With P.L. Walker. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 106:255-259.

1999   Sex differences in trace elements: status or self-selection?  In: Gender in   Paleopathological Perspective.  A. Grauer and P. Stuart-Macadam, eds. Cambridge University Press.  With K.D. Hunt. 

1999   Skeletal evidence for nutrition in the Mesolithic and Neolithic: a view from Franchthi Cave.  In:  Palaeodiet in the Aegean.  SJ Vaughan and WDE Coulson, eds.  David Browne (Oxbow Books).

1999   Physical anthropology in the field: recognizing cremation, defleshing, exposure and secondary burial.  In:  The Practical Impact of Science on Field Archaeology. S. Pike and S. Gitin, eds.  Wiener Laboratory Publication No. 3.   Pp. 43-6. Archetype Press: London.

2000   Trepanation or trephination?  The orthography of paleopathology.  Paleopathology Newsletter No. 109: 9-12.

2001   Residential mortuary practices and skeletal biology at the Late Mississippian Hovey Lake site, Posey County, Indiana.  Midcontinental Journal of Archeology  26:1-52.  With C.A. Munson. 

2001   Neglected ancestors: Etienne and Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.  Paleopathology  Newsletter No. 116:17-21.

2002   Rhinomaxillary syndrome in the absence of leprosy: an exercise in differential  diagnosis.  In: The Past and Present of Leprosy: Congress Proceedings, C.Roberts, O. Dutour, G. Palfi and M. Lewis, eds.  British Archaeological Report (International Series) No. 1054.  Archaeopress:  Oxford.

2003   Neglected ancestors: Dr. Selby W. Plummer.   Paleopathology Newsletter  No.  123:11-16.

2005   The Myth of Syphilis: A Natural History of North American Treponematosis.  Mary Lucas Powell and Della Collins Cook, eds. Gainesville, University Press of Florida.   

2005   Transitory mummies: Hopewell tombs and the conservation of the dead.  Journal of Biological Research VXXX:191-193. 

2006   Bioathropology bibliography: studies of human remains and mortuary practices that use Perino mound-excavation data.  In: Illinois Hopewell and Late Woodland Mounds: The Excavations of Gregory Perino.  Kenneth Farnsworth, ed., ITARP Studies in Archaeology  No. 4.  Pp. 125-136.  University of Illinois Press.

2006    Joe Gay Mound Group, Crematory A excavations.   In: Illinois Hopewell and Late Woodland Mounds: The Excavations of Gregory Perino.  Kenneth Farnsworth, ed.,  ITARP Studies in Archaeology  No. 4.  Pp. 498-500.  University of Illinois Press: Urbana.   With A. Palkovich.

2006    Introduction.  Memorias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz Vol. 101 (Suppl. II):5-7. With M. L. Powell.

2006    Tuberculosis in the New World: a study of ribs from the Schild Mississippian population, West-Central Illinois.  Memorias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz Vol. 101 (Suppl. II):25-27.  With J. Raff and F. Kaestle

2006    The Old Physical Anthropology and the New World: a look at the accomplishments of an antiquated paradigm.  In: Bioarchaeology: The             Contextual Study of Human Remains.  Jane E. Buikstra and Lane A Beck, eds.   Elsevier: Amsterdam.  Pp. 27-72.

2006    The evolution of American paleopathology.   In: Bioarchaeology: The Contextual Study of Human Remains.  Jane E. Buikstra and Lane A Beck, eds.  Elsevier: Amsterdam.  Pp. 281-322.  With Mary Lucas Powell.

2006    Invisible Hands: Women in Bioarchaeology.  In: Bioarchaeology: The Contextual Study of Human Remains.  Jane E. Buikstra and Lane A Beck, eds.  Elsevier: Amsterdam.  Pp. 131-193.  With M. L. Powell, J. E. Buikstra, G.Bogdan, M. M. Castro, P. D. Horne, D. R. Hunt, R. T. Koritzer, S. Ferraz Mendonça de Souza, M. K. Sandford, L. Saunders, G. Aparecida Malerba Sene,  L. Sullivan, and J. J. Swetnam.

2007  Maize and Mississippians in the Midwest: Twenty Years Later.  In: Ancient Health: Skeletal Indicators of Agriculture and Economic Intensification.  Mark Nathan Cohen and Gillian Crane-Kramer, eds.  University Press of Florida. Pp. 10-19.

2007    Incidence of  trachoma in two prehistoric Lower Illinois River Valley populations. Paleopathology Newsletter (138):9-12.  With Julie Euber and Susan Dale Spencer. 

2008    Thermally Induced Changes in the Stable Carbon- and Nitrogen-isotope Ratios of Charred Bones.  In: The Analysis of Burned Human Remains. Christopher W. Schmidt and Steven A. Symes, eds.  Academic: Amsterdam.  Pp.95-108.   With Mark R. Schurr and Robert G. Hayes.

2008    Book review: McCafferty: Native American Place-Names in Indiana. Journal of Folklore Research.

2008    In Memoriam: Patrick David Horne.  Paleopathology Newsletter No. 143:9-11. With Mary Lucas  Powell.

2009    Isotopic evidence for diet at Chau Hiix, Belize: testing regional models of hierarchy and heterarchy.   Latin American Antiquity 20(1): 15-36. With Jessica  Z. Metcalfe, Christine D. White, Fred J. Longstaffe, Gabriel Wrobel and K. Anne  Pyburn .

2010    Da África ao Cemitério dos Pretos Novos, Rio de Janeiro: un estudo sobre as origens de escravos a partir da anályse de isotopes de estrôncio no esmalte dentário.  Revista de  Arqueologia 24(1):68-97.  With Murilo Q.R. Bastos, Sheila M. F. Mendonça de Souza, Ricardo Ventura Santos, Claudia Rodrigues-Carvalho and Roberto Ventura Santos. 

2011    Dentes intencionalmente modificados e etnicidade em cemitérios do Brasil Colônia e Imperio. Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, São Paulo,21:315-334.  With Andersen Liryo and Sheila Mendonça de Souza.

2011    Brief communication: conjoined twins at Angel Mounds?  An ancient DNA perspective.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 146(1):138-42.   With Charla Marshall, Patricia A. Tench and Frederika A. Kaestle.

2011   As the worm turns: an enigmatic calcified object as pseudopathology.         International Journal of  Osteoarchaeology DOI:10.1002/oa.1302.  With Randy R. Patrick.

2011   The ‘African Queen’, a Portuguese Mystery.  In:  The Bioarchaeology of  Individuals. Ann Lucy Stodder & Ann M. Palkovich, Editors, University Press of Florida.  With Mary Lucas Powell, Maia M. Langley, Jennifer Raff, Susan D. Spencer and Frederika Kaestle.

2012    Book Review: Arch Lake Woman: Physical Anthropology and Geoarchaeology. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 31(1):153-155.

2012    Future of Paleopathology.  With Mary Lucas Powell.  In: A Companion to Paleopathology, Anne L. Grauer, ed.  Blackwell.

2012   Treponematosis: Past, Present and Future.  With Mary Lucas Powell.  In: A Companion to Paleopathology, Anne L. Grauer, ed.  Blackwell.

2012   Cemitério dos Pretos Novos: questões da escravidão revisitadas.  Ciencia Hoje 49 (219--April):22-27.  With  Sheila Mendonça de Souza,    Murilo Quintans Bastos, Ricardo Ventura Santos.

2012   Roy L. Moodie: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient Disease.   Global History of Paleopathology.  Oxford University Press.    J. E. Buikstra and C. A. Roberts, eds.

2012 Paleopathology in the American Midcontinent.   Global History of            Paleopathology.  Oxford University Press.   J.E. Buikstra and C. A. Roberts, eds.

2012    Herbert Upham Williams: Physician Paleopathologist.   Global History of Paleopathology.  Oxford University Press.    J. E. Buikstra and C. A. Roberts, eds.

2012   Neglected Ancestors: Robert Wilson Shufeldt, M. D., 1850-1934.  Global History of Paleopathology.  Oxford University Press.  J. E. Buikstra and C. A. Roberts, eds.

2012  Tocas do Gongo, São Raimundo Nonato, Piauí, Brasil: uma Bioarqueologia Retrospectiva. Revista de  Arqueologia 24(2):30-49.  With Sheila Maria Ferraz Mendonça de Souza.

2013  Synchrotron Reveals Early Triassic Odd Couple: Injured Amphibian and   Aestivating Therapsid Share Burrow. With Fernandez, V.; Abdala, F.; Carlson, K. J.; Rubidge, B. S.; Yates, A.; Tafforeau, P. PLoS ONE 8 (6): e64978.

2013 Oddest Couple Ever Found.   With Fernandez, V.; Abdala, F.; Carlson, K. J.; Rubidge, B. S.; Yates, A.; Tafforeau, P.  ESRF Highlights 2013: 13-14.

2014  Normal Goat or Diseased Human? Disciplinary Boundaries and Methodological Traps in the Analysis of Fragmentary Remains at Franchthi Cave, Greece.  In: Commingled and  Disarticulated Human Remains: Working Toward ImprovedTheory, Method and Data.  Anna J. Osterholtz, Kathryn M. Baustian, Debra L. Martin and eds. NY: Springer.  Pp. 255-263.

2014  Taking Analyses of Commingled Remains into the Future: Challenges and Prospects.  With  Kathryn M. Baustian and  Anna J. Osterholtz .  In: Commingled and Disarticulated Human Remains: Working Toward Improved Theory, Method and Data.  Anna J. Osterholtz, Kathryn M. Baustian, Debra L. Martin and eds. NY: Springer.  Pp. 265-274.

2014  Death and the Special Child:    Three Examples from the Ancient Midwest. With Andrew R.Thompson and Amanda A. Rollins.  In: Tracing Childhood: Bioarchaeological Investigations of Early Lives in Antiquity.  J.L. Thompson, M.P. Alfonso-Durruty and J. J. Crandall, eds.  Gainsville: University of Florida Press. Pp.17-35.

2014  The Temporal and Cultural Contexts of the Enigmatic Cremation Burials from the Yokem Site, Illinois, USA.  With Mark Schurr.  In: Transformation by Fire: the Archaeology of  Cremation in Cultural Context.  Ian Kuijt, Colin P. Quinn and Gabriel Cooney, eds.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Pp.

2014  The Natural Shocks that Flesh is Heir to.   In:  Owsley, D.W. and R.L.Jantz, eds., Kennewick Man: the Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.  Pp. 279-289.

2014  Summum.  ABC-CLIO: Mummies around the World: An Encyclopedia of Mummies in History, Religion, and Popular Culture.  Matt Cardin, ed.   Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC.  Pp. 393-395.

2014 Pre-Columbian mycobacterial genomes reveal seals as a source of New World human tuberculosis. Nature  Aug 20. doi: 10.1038/nature13591.  Bos KI, Harkins KM, Herbig A, Coscolla M, Weber N, Comas I, Forrest SA, Bryant JM, Harris SR, Schuenemann VJ, Campbell TJ, Majander K, Wilbur AK, Guichon RA, Wolfe Steadman DL, Cook DC, Niemann S, Behr MA, Zumarraga M, Bastida R, Huson D, Nieselt K, Young D, Parkhill J, Buikstra JE, Gagneux S, Stone AC, Krause J.

2015 Ancient DNA from the Schild site in Illinois: Implications for the Mississippian transition in the Lower Illinois River Valley. With Austin W. Reynolds, Jennifer A.Raff, Deborah A. Bolnick, and Fredericka A. Kaestle.  Am J Phys Anthropol.156(3):434-48. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22668.

2015  Pretos Novos: Evidence for African Oral Hygiene Practices in Brazil,1769–1830. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 25: 238–244:  With Murilo Q. R. Bastos, Camile Lopes, Sheila  Mendonça de Souza and Ricardo Ventura Santos.  DOI: 10.1002/oa.2278 (published online 2012)

2015 Vessel, Ornament, Mask or Rattle? Reconstructing a Mississippian Worked Bone Object from the Angel Site. With Cheryl Ann Munson.  In:  Transforming the Dead: Culturally Modified Bone in the Prehistoric Midwest.   Eve A. Hargrave, Shirley J. Schermer, Kristin M. Hedman and Robin M. Lillie, eds.  Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. Pp. 152-172.

2015 Modification of Human Bone from Mississippian Caborn-Welborn Phase Sites in Southwestern Indiana and West-Central Kentucky.  With Cheryl Ann Munson and Mary Lucas Powell. In:  Transforming the Dead: Culturally Modified Bone in the Prehistoric Midwest.   Eve A. Hargrave, Shirley J. Schermer, Kristin M. Hedman and Robin M. Lillie, eds.  Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. Pp. 173-190.

2015 Life after Death: A Brief History of Human Bone Tools in Sub-Mound 51 at Cahokia. With Eve A. Hargrave.  In:  Transforming the Dead: Culturally Modified Bone in the Prehistoric Midwest.   Eve A. Hargrave, Shirley J. Schermer, Kristin M. Hedman and Robin M. Lillie, eds.  Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.  Pp.129-140.

2015 Paleopathology.  In: Basics in Human Evolution.  Michael P. Meuhlenbein, editor. Academic Press.  Pp. 427-447.

2016 Isotopic study of geographic origins and diet of enslaved Africans buried in two Brazilian cemeteries.  Journal of Archaeological Science 70:82-90.  With Murilo Q. R. Bastos, Ricardo  V.  Santos, Sheila M. F. M. de Souza, Claudia Rodrigues-Carvalho, Robert H. Tykot, and Roberto V. Santos.